The Catholic Sun this week is marking a year of pandemic and as it does so, I shudder to think what things were like at this time last year. In reviewing letters to our diocesan family and newspaper columns from that time period, I realize we were trying to address the great unknown and sort of hoping it was just a more virulent flu bug. As we all know that wasn’t the case and our “normal” way of life was severely challenged.
I know for me that one of the biggest pandemic-related challenges was to keep our parishes from being occasions of spreading the coronavirus. I want to thank all who so patiently walked this journey with us as a local Church as we faced the challenge of temporary closure and then the even greater challenge of being allowed to resume worship by state officials. You are right if you say, “It hasn’t been easy!” However, one virtue that has really sustained me in the last 12 months is perseverance. It has allowed me not to give up in the midst of the twists and turns of COVID-19.
The pandemic has affected my own practice of my Catholic faith in two ways: (1) the importance of my own efforts in keeping the faith, such as availing myself of time for prayer and not wasting it, doing more spiritual reading, and being ever more conscious of my neighbor and that what I do affects others; and (2) the importance of communal worship and of the Sacraments — that you and I are really companions on the journey and that part of the journey is to encourage one another in holiness of life.
As I look at ways that I met these challenges, I think of my own Sunday morning Holy Hours in the Cathedral when we couldn’t gather for Holy Mass and of how livestreaming the Mass to our diocesan family and beyond became a life-giving connection. In the weeks when I celebrated daily Mass in the Cathedral with only the lector present, I can honestly state that I always felt the Cathedral full and didn’t see empty pews, but felt in a real way the presence of those joining me in worship.
This livestreaming of Holy Mass led to other occasions for sharing prayer with the diocesan family and has led to new initiatives to benefit the homebound of our diocese and indeed other dioceses as well. Some particularly noteworthy occasions now livestreamed are the Easter Triduum, the May Crowning, Marian devotions in May and October, Holy Hours for special needs, and our Diocesan Lenten Retreat.
I think these opportunities for prayer with the wider diocesan family, along with long walks in the outdoors, helped me to keep in check the stress and grief that made their appearance along the way. It helped also when I was able to return to training at the local fitness center.
I remember particularly being concerned about whether I would bring COVID-19 home to my elderly parents. Yet, after a couple of months of not seeing them and when testing became available, it was decided by my siblings and me that it was better for me to make home visits than to stay away. In these moments, along with those connected with my ministry as diocesan bishop, a big lesson I learned was simply to leave all in God’s hands once I had done what was humanly possible in acting responsibly. It helped me to sleep at night and not give in to excessive worry.
It seems that this Lent, I will have the opportunity to publicly lead the liturgies of Holy Week among you for the first time while also livestreaming them for our homebound. It appears that for the most part, we will be able to provide the full repertoire of ceremonies, including visits to churches and their repositories on Holy Thursday evening.
We know what we missed last year, so this year I invite us not to take Holy Week for granted and to participate both in person and, if necessary, through our livestream programming. This year, Jews and Christians will celebrate the Passover feast concurrently. When the Jewish people celebrate Passover, it is not simply calling to mind a historical event in their history. Rather, they hold that they are partaking once again in that Exodus journey where they, too, are called to enter into this journey of covenant and deliverance. The same is to be said of you and me as we enter into Christ’s Passover sacrifice as the Lamb of God. Next week is not just a week of commemoration for Jews or Christians, instead the People of God are bidden to become who they truly are in God’s eyes!
A sacred moment of opportunity is now upon us where from our prayer behind closed doors bursts forth a renewed desire for the Sacraments and for keeping holy the Lord’s Day. A moment of introspection where we acknowledge where we have strayed from the Lord and His Word and seek to be reconciled with Him and His Way/His Church. A moment of sending forth of disciples into the world to make known the Good News of Jesus Christ not only in proclaiming His message, but even more importantly the way you and I live.
Each day this week, I invite you to join me in prayer and worship as the Paschal Mystery — the living, dying, and rising of Jesus Christ — unfolds before us. I truly invite you in this moment to let our Crucified and Risen Savior into your hearts and into your lives.
Jesus saves, brothers and sisters, that is the ultimate meaning of this coming week we call “holy”! A blessed Holy Week to all! Let us keep each other in prayer and make every effort to